From the Worldwide Faith News archives

LWI FEATURE: Sierra Leone - Rape and War

Date 27 Feb 2001 11:34:23

Sierra Leone: "I Will Forgive but the Scars of My Pains Remain Forever"
Rape, the Indelible Mark Etched on Girl Victims during War

by Pauline Mumia

(On February 13, Sierra Leone's parliament voted to postpone elections by
six months and extended the government's term of office until September 2001
because of insecurity in the war-torn country. A ceasefire signed by
President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) last
November generally holds, but the rebels still control large parts of the
country's north and diamond-rich east. However the reality of the 10
year-old war is a daily struggle for the estimated 1.2 million internally
displaced victims including women and girls, as an *ecumenical women's
solidarity team visiting Sierra Leone found out.)

We found Aminata Mamadou, (not her real name) playing with her baby girl,
Fatou, at the Freetown branch of the Sierra Leone chapter of the Forum for
African Women Educationalists (FAWE). The center runs a skills' training
program for war-affected teenagers. Mamadou is one among thousands, perhaps
among tens of thousands of girls, who bear an indelible mark from the civil
war that began in the West African country in 1991.

January 6, 1999 is etched in her memory, the day troops of the Armed Forces
Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF)
invaded Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown.

Mamadou, at that time on secondary school vacation with her aunt, was
washing clothes at a brook when the rebel troops invaded eastern Freetown.
There was an utter state of panic. Being unaccustomed to the city, she
followed the crowds that were fleeing in all directions seeking a hideout.
But the rebels flushed the terrified civilians out of houses, and other
buildings, beating them senseless. "They said they would take us away but
that excluded old women and mothers with babies. We watched them dump into a
pit latrine three babies that had been forcefully snatched from their
mothers' backs. In front of our very eyes they killed all the old women
among us and ordered the rest of us to follow them."

The young girl's nightmare was only beginning. "That very night one of them
raped me and declared I was henceforth his wife." For the next year, Mamadou
was in a group of rebels that roamed the forests and fields, looting,
killing people, destroying property and sleeping in the cold. In Lunsar,
some 72 kilometers (45 miles) northeast of Freetown, where her father
stayed, she went in search of him but residents had deserted the town when
they got wind of the rebels' advance. "By then I was a very anemic, pregnant
girl," she recalled.

But one day, luck struck, and she managed to escape from the rebels and from
Makeni, the Northern Province headquarters. With the help of a friend in
Freetown a doctor attended to her until her baby was born.

"At first, seeing my baby used to make me feel very angry but not any
longer. She is now very precious to me. My daily prayer includes God's
constant provision for both of us."

Mamadou talks of forgiveness. "I will never reveal to Fatou how she was
conceived. If her father were to appear and claim his child, I would give
him access, forgive him and talk to him, but not more than that." She is
grateful that this man protected her from death on 'so many occasions,' "but
the fact remains that he raped me over and over again."

The young mother is grateful that the skills' training center provides an
opportunity to rebuild a life for girls like her. Launched in 1995, the FAWE
Sierra Leone chapter is one of 31 similar offices that form the pan-African
Forum for African Women Educationalists. Founded in 1992, FAWE's membership
includes African women ministers in charge of national education systems,
women vice-chancellors of universities and other senior women policy makers
in education in Africa. Through its national chapters, FAWE influences
policy and implements interventions to address the challenges facing the
education of girls and women in their respective countries.

Like more than 2.5 million Sierra Leoneans who are internally displaced or
refugees in neighboring countries [mainly Guinea], Mamadou yearns for
lasting peace in her country. For now, she is confident that her tailoring
skills acquired at the center will enable her to secure a decent future for
Fatou, her first priority.

Beatrice Olu Parkinson, a counselor at the FAWE center said most of the
girls on the skills' training courses were abducted and raped by rebels
during the war. Trauma counseling must be an integral part of the assistance
offered to war victims, according to Parkinson. She recalled the center's
initial efforts to reach "deeply wounded" girls like Mamadou. "Don't hide.
Come, your secrets will be safe..." was their billboard.

Parkinson says counseling the victims is a slow, continuously painful
process. "It can take up to months, even a year, before such a person
finally opens up." The FAWE counselor echoes many Sierra Leoneans' longing
for an end to the civil war in their country. She is nevertheless emphatic
that reconstructing people's lives should be an ongoing concern. "As women,
we must do something to raise the dignity of fellow women," she added.

For Mamadou and other girls at the center, the counseling and training open
a window of hope. But the young mother "will never forget" the horrible
things that happened to her when she was with the rebels. "I will forgive,
but the scars of my pains remain forever," she said.

*Members of the ecumenical women's solidarity team to Sierra Leone, 12-19
Nov. 2000, included Aruna Gnanadason and Karen Ulmer (World Council of
Churches), Battu Jambawai (All Africa Conference of Churches), Pauline Mumia
(The Lutheran World Federation), Jane Wolfe, (President, World Young Women's
Christian Association (World YWCA) and HTlFne Yinda also of the World YWCA.

*       *       *
For further information please contact:

Pauline Mumia
PO Box 2100, CH-1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
Tel: (41.22) 791.63.54
Fax: (41.22) 791.66.30

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